Haunt The Woods – Opaque
Indie Rock | Alternative Rock
Sometimes context is everything, sometimes the merit and impact of something is determined by what surrounds it. Look at it this way: Christmas Day is the most magical day of the year precisely because it only happens once a year. If you left the decorations up all year round and kept the celebration going it just wouldn’t feel the same, and you’d be sick of eating turkey every day pretty damn soon. We see this kind of thing happen all the time in TV shows and film franchises. When the fate of the world hangs in the balance it can be an exhilarating thrill ride, but when the world is in peril every week the stakes just don’t matter anymore and it doesn’t have the same impact.
Sadly a similar problem plagues Opaque, the long awaited debut album from our favourite Cornish quartet Haunt The Woods. Just about every track builds to an explosive climax with soaring vocals reminiscent of Jeff Buckley or Muse. There are a few instances where these powerful crescendos feel overblown and excessive like on the closing track ‘Feel’, but these moments are thankfully few and far between. For the most part these peaks feel earned, they feel like the moment of catharsis that the whole song has been building towards, particularly with ‘Elephant’, ‘Amethyst’, ‘Vultures’ and the stunning guitar solo on the title track.
Having them thrown at you in quick succession however means that they don’t move you as much as they should, and we’re left with an album of great songs that are working against each other. There are many tracks here that would easily become the highlight of whatever playlist you chose to add them to, but when you sit and listen to the album all the way through it just becomes one climax after another. It’s like a horror movie that’s wall to wall jumpscares without taking the time to build up the tension. It makes an album of astonishing vocals and intricate musicianship somehow feel formulaic and by-the-numbers which is a real shame.
The upside is that the same principle helps the album’s quieter moments stand out even more as highlights. The wistful folk of ‘Architecture’ has a wonderfully airy and expansive feel, a simply sublime guitar tone, and features some of the album’s most gorgeous melodies. It is the piano driven waltz of ‘Fly’ that proves to be the album’s most stunning offering however; stark, elegant, melancholy and a deeply moving moment of reflection.
Overall I think as an album Opaque is a bit too full-on and could benefit with a few more moments of quiet. The band’s earlier EPs found an excellent balance between the “less is more” mentality while still being inventive, experimental, and letting their intricate musicianship shine through, and I’d like to see that style make an appearance again in future releases. As a collection of songs each judged by their own merit however, I can’t deny that Haunt The Woods were on fire when recording these tracks. Opaque shows a whole other side to the band, something wild and elemental. The musicianship is excellent and Jonathan Stafford’s vocals are nothing short of incredible on this record. You have more chance of winning the lottery and getting struck by lightning on the way to claim it than you have of finding a better vocal performance in 2020. If Haunt The Woods can find the right balance between the soft exploratory folk of their earlier work, and the cataclysmic crescendos found on Opaque, then there is no stopping them.